AP: Traffic deaths up in drilling states

May 5, 2014 by Ken Ward Jr.

Drilling Traffic Deaths

In this photo made on Saturday, March 1, 2014, the graves of 7-year-old Nicholas Mazzei-Saum and his 8-year-old brother Alexander Mazzei-Saum, are decorated at the cemetery in Clarksburg, W. Va. In March of 2013, a truck carrying drilling water overturned onto a car their mother, Lucretia Mazzei, was driving, killing the two elementary school students. An analysis of traffic fatalities in the busiest new oil and gas-producing counties in the U.S. shows a sharp rise in deaths that experts say is related to the drilling boom. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

We’ve written before in this space about the traffic dangers parts of West Virginia have been experiencing as a result of the boom in natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. Now, reporters from The Associated Press have tried to quantify that issue. They report:

Booming production of oil and natural gas has exacted a little-known price on some of the nation’s roads, contributing to a spike in traffic fatalities in states where many streets and highways are choked with large trucks and heavy drilling equipment.

An Associated Press analysis of traffic deaths and U.S. census data in six drilling states shows that in some places, fatalities have more than quadrupled since 2004 — a period when most American roads have become much safer even as the population has grown.

“We are just so swamped,” said Sheriff Dwayne Villanueva of Karnes County, Texas, where authorities have been overwhelmed by the surge in serious accidents.

The industry acknowledges the problem, and traffic agencies and oil companies say they are taking steps to improve safety. But no one imagines that the risks will be eliminated quickly or easily.

“I don’t see it slowing down anytime soon,” Villanueva said.

Specifically, the AP explains:

In North Dakota drilling counties, the population has soared 43 percent over the last decade, while traffic fatalities increased 350 percent. Roads in those counties were nearly twice as deadly per mile driven than the rest of the state. In one Texas drilling district, drivers were 2.5 times more likely to die in a fatal crash per mile driven compared with the statewide average.

William Saum

In this photo made on Saturday, March 1, 2014, William Saum stands near his front porch in Clarksburg, W. Va. In March of 2013, a truck carrying drilling water overturned onto a car carrying his wife and two young sons. Both children, 7-year-old Nicholas Mazzei-Saum and 8-year-old Alexander, were killed. An analysis of traffic fatalities in the busiest new oil and gas-producing counties in the U.S. shows a sharp rise in deaths that experts say is related to the drilling boom. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

And in West Virginia, the AP explains:

Last year, a truck carrying drilling water in Clarksburg, W.Va., overturned onto a car carrying a mother and her two boys. Both children, 7-year-old Nicholas Mazzei-Saum and 8-year-old Alexander, were killed.

“We buried them in the same casket,” recalled their father, William Saum. He said his wife, Lucretia Mazzei, has been hospitalized four times over the last year for depression.

Traffic fatalities in West Virginia’s most heavily drilled counties, including where the Mazzei-Saum boys were killed, rose 42 percent in 2013. Traffic deaths in the rest of the state declined 8 percent.

… On the day his sons were killed, William Saum’s wife had taken the boys to the YMCA to register for swimming and karate classes. The truck didn’t stop at the stop sign, tried to make a turn and flipped onto the family car. Police issued two traffic tickets but filed no criminal charges.

Saum and his wife waited until she was 40 to have children. Now she’s 49, he said, and “it’s not like we can have any more.”

Asked what he thinks of the drilling boom, he paused.

“I guess,” Saum said, “it’s good for the people who are making the money.”

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